Former MPs may face ban from House

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The Independent Online
Former MPs could be banned from the Commons under tougher sanctions which are likely to be demanded after four ex-MPs were admonished over "sleaze" allegations by the cross-party select committee on standards and privileges.

One option could be to reduce ex-MPs' pensions, but it is unlikely that would be approv-ed. More likely options could include withdrawing the perks open to former MPs, including the right to visit the House, seats in the gallery for Prime Minister's questions, and freedom to drink in the Commons' bars.

The committee said it would have suspended all four MPs - Michael Brown, Tim Smith, Sir Michael Grylls, and Sir Andrew Bowden - because their conduct fell well below the standards expected for the Commons, but it was powerless to act against them because they had left the Commons at the last election.

The committee admitted it had no sanctions against ex-MPs. MPs who are suspended, such as the Labour MP Robert Wareing, lose a week's pay. In a clear warning to the Commons, the committee - one of the most senior in the House - said they would offer advice in the future on "appropriate penalties and sanctions for members, former members and other persons involved in unacceptable behaviour".

The committee, chaired by former Labour minister Sir Robert Sheldon, will next week consider allegations against a fifth ex-Tory MP, Neil Hamilton, who was at the centre of the sleaze allegations and was defeated in his Tatton seat by Martin Bell at the election. Labour leaders said the report showed that sleaze allegations against the Tories lingered long after the general election.

The report followed the inquiry by Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and upheld his findings about the allegations made by Mohammed al-Fayed, the owner of Harrods, that he had paid MPs through the lobbyist, Ian Greer, to raise issues in the Commons.

The MPs apologised for not fully declaring their private interests in the register of MPs' interests, but the committee found their excuses unconvincing. The committee found it "unlikely" that Sir Andrew Bowden did not at least guess that the source of a an election donation from Mr Greer was Mr Fayed.

Sir Michael Grylls "deliberately misled" the select commit- tee on members interests in taking commission payments from Mr Greer and he would have been suspended for "a considerable period" if he had still been an MP. The same was said of Tim Smith, who accepted cash payments directly from Mr Fayed of between pounds 18,000 and pounds 25,000. The committee said his action, in concealing the payments, would have been a contempt of the House.

Mr Brown failed to register an introduction payment from Mr Greer in relations to the US makers of Skoal Bandits. The chewing tobacco products were banned from Britain because of a link with mouth cancer. Mr Brown pressed for a licence, but did not declare his interest.